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Leveraging the power of Crowdsourcing for Localization

Crowdsourcing is the new buzz word floating around the internet lately. Wikipedia defines it as "the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to a large group of people or community (a crowd), through an open call". Though this a new term, the concept itself is not so new. It literally means outsourcing to the crowd. The Open source revolution which started almost a decade back is successfully tapping the power of the community to develop software. The key driving point of Crowdsourcing is participation and collaboration with the general crowd (or users) who use your applications and leveraging their expertise and time to enhance your product. Companies like Microsoft, Apple and Google etc have successfully tapped the potential of Crowdsourcing and made millions out of it by virtually investing nothing.

Crowdsourcing can be used for almost anything. Companies are using it to create online content, mobile apps, market research and much more. Facebook is one of the Web 2.0 success stories of recent times. Almost 60% of Facebook users are spread outside the US. As early as 2008, Facebook started involving its end users to help in translating the application into more than 2 dozen languages. A community driven project to add foreign language support to its application was started. It launched an application called "Translations" to make the site available in the language of your choice. Users were presented with thousands of words and phrases which they could translate and these translations would be reviewed by other users who were part of this whole eco-system. People just needed to add the app, enable "Translation Mode" and submit translations for whatever page they were browsing. Statistics have revealed that over 300,000 people have participated in this translation exercise, making Facebook available in more than 70 languages and Facebook has achieved all this for free!!! (Well, almost). Facebook made a success of its Crowdsourcing project for translating its application with high quality and rapid turnaround. They have even filed a patent for this method of localization by the community. Adobe has recently begun leveraging Lingotek's software platform to enable the crowdsourcing of translations within China.

The traditional approach to localization has been to outsource the translation activity to professional agencies which employ trained people who are paid to do it. The cost of the translation activity depends on the number of words or pages to translate and is generally very high as it is a very laborious task. As per the contracts, the agencies have to work according to the release schedule of the product into the market. Outsourcing this translation activity to the end users themselves, changes the entire development model. No longer would this activity be accountable, you can't sue people for wrong translations, you can't impose deadlines on anyone, you can't ensure commitment too, but in spite of all this you can still tap into the community and get the same output and at a relatively cheaper cost.

So, is crowdsourcing of localization the right approach and does it score over the traditional approach of outsourcing your translation work to professional translation agencies? Is it really free of cost or is there some cost associated to the company to get this done? How reliable are the translations? Can this approach work when time to market is the deciding factor? These and many other questions come to our mind when we think about crowdsourcing for localization.

What makes crowdsourcing of localization a viable option? Facebook couldn't have done it if its user base was not large and diverse enough. You need a relatively large pool of users who understand the application well. Along with this the users should also have some level of involvement with your application. You can't expect every user who uses your application, to have the free time to help in localizing it even if they had the expertise to help in translations. Moreover they should be motivated to do it without any expectations of gain, monetary or otherwise. It should also be kept in mind that community driven work gets done at its own pace and by people who range from novices to experts. Does this imply that quality of translation will not be as good as that done by professional agencies? This may not always be true, since in this case, people who are translating are actual users of the applications and they have a better understanding of the scenarios in which a particular line of text gets displayed. Moreover you can have other people vote on the translations and finally choose the one which gets voted most, thus ensuring a good level of localization. With the advent of free web technologies and open source, it is not difficult to make work available online. However it is challenge is to invest in creating a framework wherein the community can contribute, collaborate and be motivated to do work for you. In the end, crowdsourcing is about direct contact with your customers.

This being said, the traditional way of localization is not a thing of the past yet. If your company is into a business where quality and timely delivery is of more importance than the money you are spending on your translation activities, then crowdsourcing may not be the answer for you. It is better to hire professional translators and release your product on time.

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